British Lions

Warburton benched, O'Mahony leads Lions

2017-06-22 06:30
Warren Gatland (Getty)

Auckland - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has backed his newly anointed Test captain Peter O'Mahony to inspire a "courageous" first Test performance and attack the All Blacks in their own backyard.

O'Mahony was handed leadership duties for Saturday's clash at the All Blacks' fortress of Eden Park despite only skippering Ireland three times, relegating tour captain Sam Warburton to the bench.

The injury-hit Warburton has struggled for form in warm-up matches, while O'Mahony's commitment was impressive as he captained the Lions to a 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks last week.

Gatland believes that passion, coupled with an attacking intent that the Lions have only showed in glimpses so far, will be needed to topple the back-to-back world champions.

The tourists have won plaudits for their defence in the warm-up matches but New Zealand-born Gatland said that would not be enough at Eden Park, where the All Blacks have not lost for 23 years.

"We've picked a team we think are capable of playing some exciting rugby, you've got to be prepared to match the All Blacks," he said.

"We've strangled a couple of sides and we're not going to deny that's been successful but we've also got to have the ability to play."

Gatland, himself a former All Black, said the players O'Mahony will lead onto the field had to be brave enough to chance their arm in pursuit of victory.

"To beat the All Blacks you have to be courageous and play some rugby - you have to score tries and I think we have picked a team capable of doing that," he said.

Gatland made only four changes to the starting XV that defeated the Maori, choosing England star Owen Farrell at flyhalf over Ireland's Johnny Sexton.

In line with his commitment to attack, Gatland reshuffled his backline to include Liam Williams at fullback and Elliot Daly on the wing after their eye-catching performances in this week's 34-6 win over Chiefs.

They edge out Leigh Halfpenny and George North respectively, with North not even included in the match-day squad after failing to impress in the warm-up fixtures.

Perhaps surprisingly, Alun Wyn Jones comes in at lock, with Maro Itoje starting on the bench.

Gatland said his replacements, which include the likes of Warburton, Itoje and Sexton, would be vital as he seeks an 80-minute performance against strong-finishing New Zealand.

"We're excited about the 15 to take the field but we've also got a strong, experienced bench of players who can give us some real impact," he said.

Warburton's relegation had been widely anticipated and Gatland said he was determined to select players based on their tour performances, not reputations.

"We have picked a side based on form with a lot of players putting their hands up, especially from the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks games, and it was a lively selection meeting," he said.

"The win against the Chiefs was also extremely important for the squad and some players played themselves into the side."

Teams:

New Zealand

15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody

Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown

British & Irish Lions

15 Liam Williams (Scarlets/WAL), 14 Anthony Watson (Bath/ENG), 13 Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/WAL), 12 Ben Te'o (Worcester/ENG), 11 Elliot Daly (Wasps/ENG), 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens/ENG), 9 Conor Murray (Munster/IRL), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Bath/ENG), 7 Sean O'Brien (Leinster/IRL), 6 Peter O'Mahony (captain - Munster/IRL), 5 George Kruis (Saracens/ENG), 4 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/WAL), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/IRL), 2 Jamie George (Saracens/ENG), 1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens/ ENG)

Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens (Scarlets/WAL), 17 Jack McGrath (Leinster/IRL), 18 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins/ENG), 19 Maro Itoje (Saracens/ ENG), 20 Sam Warburton (Cardiff/WAL), 21 Rhys Webb (Ospreys/WAL), 22 Johnny Sexton (Leinster/IRL), 23 Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon/WAL)

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